A Single Electron Spurs a Prototypical Acid-Base Reaction


In an effort to better understand how hydrochloric acid and ammonia react to form ammonium and chloride ions, a team of scientists led by Soren Eustis from Johns Hopkins University and collaborators from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, the University of Gdansk, Poland, the Heriot-Watt University, United Kingdom, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, discovered that supplying an extra electron can make the reaction go from acid and base to neutral molecule, and removing the electron can make the reaction go from neutral molecule to an acid and base. This switch-like behavior may be a first step to enable chemists to precisely control chemical reactions to produce a planned product such as hydrogen from a hydrogen storage material. The research team used both the photoelectron spectroscopy experimental capabilities and the high performance computational capabilities of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a national scientific user facility located in Richland, Washington, to determine that the processes occur on a time scale of less than 100 microseconds. The teams work appeared in the February 15, 2008, issue of Science, and a figure from the study was highlighted on that issues cover. Funding to support this research came from international agencies, the National Science Foundation, and the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences.